Nothing about Bobby Lavender suggests he is "an OG, triple-X, first-generation" gangster--founding father of the set that later became the Bloods.
"No big deal," Lavender demurs. " 'OG' simply stands for 'original gangster' "--a mark of respect bestowed upon former gang leaders who maintain their influence and reputation.
A \o7 very\f7 big deal, others say. "When an OG like Lavender talks, those homeys and baby g-sters listen," says Leon Bing, author of "Do or Die," a recent book on Los Angeles gangs.
"OGs have more respect and power than anyone else in the community," she explains. "They carry the weight; they're the only ones gang members will listen to; the only ones who can stop this madness now."
As proof of his peacemaking potential, Lavender and other OG friends got 700 gang members from 45 rival sets together for "Crossing Gang Lines," a TV special starring comedian Paul Rodriguez that will put out an anti-violence message through comedy and rap. The show airs tonight at 10 on Channel 11.
Amazingly, there were no shootings, fistfights or property damage.
"The LAPD, the county probation department and the Sheriff's (Department) all said we couldn't pull it off. They were terrified," says Jeff Wald, the show's producer. "But Bobby and his associates made it happen right."
Lavender, 37, now a crisis intervention worker for Community Youth Gang Services, says he and other OGs want to put gangs on a more positive course, which will help stop drive-by shootings, drugs and graffiti. Ironically, Lavender is one of the guys who started it all, when he organized the Bishops about two decades back.
"That's who I was and where I've been, and nothing I do can change it," Lavender says with sorrow.
"It was the biggest mistake of my life. But we were youngsters then, didn't know what we were doing. Didn't know how big it would get, how much drugs would be brought in, how many of us would get killed.
"Now we're trying to rectify it. We were part of the problem, we ought to be part of the solution."
Although Lavender is not a gang member now, "in your mind and heart you never really leave the gang," he says. "A man always has feelings for his roots and for where he came from. And if you see your people being hurt, you can't just walk away."
He believes gang members are as victimized as the people they victimize--but they just don't know it.
"These kids don't understand they're being used," he says. "They're being used by people who bring in drugs and by those who pretend to help but really want to keep them exactly where they are--which is nowhere."
If Lavender could bring a night of gang peace to the John Anson Ford Theatre, why not make it happen for a week . . . or a year?
It's "too deep" for simple answers, he says.
"You cannot have peace in this city unless you have the OGs in leadership positions in the gang programs, so that they become role models for the kids. Right now, the kids don't understand and don't listen to the people trying to help them. And the people designated to help don't understand the kids."
Lavender says most people now counseling and coordinating gang programs are well-meaning and well-educated. "But they have normal educations and training, and these are not normal kids.
"They need someone they can identify with, who speaks their own language, who can be a role model and give them achievable goals. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan aren't people they can emulate. They only identify with someone who's been through it just like them."
Jim Galipeau, deputy probation officer in the Metropolitan Specialized Gang Unit, says, "No successful resolution of the gang problem can happen without . . . OGs, and they ought to earn a living wage. We do not want (therapists) from 'SC. We want guys like these that got the knowledge and the juice. They're the experts . . . and we need to get them funded."
Larry Mellon, former city recreation director at the Ramona Gardens housing project, says he hired OGs to head his basketball program and other projects, and found "they definitely did stimulate and revitalize" the facility by "bringing in more people and keeping hostilities down. There was no more graffiti on the walls and things weren't getting stolen anymore."
As a toddler in the Pueblo del Rio housing project in southeast L. A., Lavender learned to live by his fists. He reels off the names of about a dozen gangs that surrounded his home turf. By the age of 8, he was taking guns and knives to school. At Fremont High School, he rose to the top of the gang heap as a leader of the Bishops:
"My thing was simple: So long as no one bothered anybody from my neighborhood, we were cool. From 1969 to 1973, the number of Bishops that were killed by Crips in the city of Los Angeles is absolutely zero. But if the Crips came in and disrespected our neighborhood, the whole thing \o7 was on\f7 ."